If you were ever charged with a criminal offense, your case file may be accessed by the public. Even if you are acquitted or found not guilty or there is a dismissal of case proceedings, the charges will remain visible through background checks, criminal record searches, and other online searches, unless legal measures are taken to have your record sealed or expunged.
The Difference Between Expungement & Sealing
Sealing or expunging your record can prove to be a powerful aid in improving employment opportunities and restoring one's reputation. With successful completion of either process, you may deny the charges (with only some rare exceptions according to Fla. Statute 943.0585(4)). But how do these two options differ?
Sealing and expunging a record can provide similar practical results—both will limit public access to your records. However, expungement takes a criminal record beyond the reach of the public, ensuring any trace of your case is eliminated from most files. Sealing keeps records inaccessible to all but law enforcement and other approved authorities; sealed records can be requested by court order and may be used for court appearances or employment inquiries (for law enforcement or government jobs).
Sealing and Expunging of arrest records offer similar protections; in both cases, your file will not be accessible to the public. However, certain exceptions may still require disclosure when applying for positions with law enforcement organizations or working around vulnerable members of society. An experienced criminal attorney can help advise you on relevant legal considerations specific to your case.
Am I Eligible to Seal or Expunge My Criminal Record?
The other significant difference between sealing and expunging a record is which option you qualify for. To qualify to have your case expunged, your case would need to have been dismissed or you were found not guilty of the offense.
Dismissal means that the prosecutor dropped the case, the Judge granted a motion to dismiss, or you were acquitted at trial. You can also have your case expunged if you:
- previously had the case sealed for 10 years or more, and
- have no previous expunged or sealed records.
You can qualify to have your record sealed if you have pled guilty, no contest, or have been found guilty at trial if adjudication was withheld. You are also only eligible to have your record sealed if you:
- have completed probation,
- have no other charges pending against you, and
- have no other convictions.
What It Means to Have Adjudication Withheld
In Florida, it is possible to be guilty of an offense without facing a conviction; this occurs when the Court withholds adjudication of guilt. As we mentioned, being found guilty but having adjudication withheld is important for your eligibility for sealing your record.
Can an Acquittal After Trial Be Expunged?
An acquittal is different from having charges dismissed, as an acquittal occurs when a person is found not guilty of a crime. If you have been acquitted after trial, you are eligible to have your record sealed, not expunged. (However, once they have been sealed for 10 years, you can pursue an expunction.)
Expungement and sealing of records even after 10 years are not allowed in the case where current law has precluded it. If you have had a withheld adjudication of certain offenses, you will still not be eligible for Sealing your record, nor Expungement. Disqualifying offenses include but are not limited to:
- A violation of the Florida Communications Fraud Act
- Abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult, or aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult
- Aggravated assault
- Aircraft piracy
- Assault or battery
- Burglary of a dwelling
- Certain acts in connection with obscenity
- Child abuse or aggravated child abuse
- Drug trafficking
- Felony battery, domestic battery by strangulation, or aggravated battery
- Home-invasion robbery
- Human trafficking
- Illegal use of explosives
- Kidnapping or false imprisonment
- Lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of persons less than 16 years of age
- Lewd or lascivious offenses committed upon or in the presence of an elderly person or disabled person
- Luring or enticing a child
- Manufacturing a controlled substance
- Procuring a person less than 18 years of age for prostitution
- Robbery or robbery by sudden snatching
- Selling or buying of minors
- Sexual misconduct
- Sexual performance by a child
- Stalking or aggravated stalking
- Voyeurism or video voyeurism
- Any offense as outlined in Fla. Statute Chapter 794 (Sexual battery)
- Any offense outlined in Fla. Statute Chapter 893 (Drug abuse prevention and control)
- Any violation specified as a predicate offense for registration as a sexual predator under s. 775.21, or sexual offender under s. 943.0435 (regardless of whether the offense alone requires registration)
How Long Does It Take to Seal or Expunge a Record in Florida?
It can take anywhere from six to seven months to have your record sealed. Individuals looking to seal their criminal histories must first apply for a Certificate of Eligibility from the relevant department before petitioning the court. Monitor and follow applicable regulations set by this governing body, as it is necessary to receive authorization with regard to sealing your record.
Upon submission of a criminal background check, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) will award applicants with an eligibility certificate if they meet the criteria. It can take months to receive approval and can then be followed by filing a Petition for consideration in court. If there is no opposition from those involved, the judge has the authority to issue an Order affirming their decision.
Get Legal Help
If you are considering sealing your records in Florida, it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of an experienced attorney. An attorney will be able to provide valuable guidance and resources on the process, as well as answer any questions you may have about potential consequences or other factors associated with record sealing.
Additionally, a legal professional can help ensure that all necessary paperwork is properly completed and submitted for processing promptly. Having assistance from an attorney can make the process much easier and provide peace of mind knowing that your records are being handled correctly.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Cavanaugh & Cavanaugh, P.A. have over 45 years of collective experience and are more than equipped to help you with sealing your records. We offer our clients high-quality and compassionate legal counsel and tailored services.
Get started on your case today by calling (239) 309-2006 or completing our online contact form.